The current Congress is a do-nothing legislative body, while the Department of Energy (DOE) has stepped up its approval of applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) in response to the rapid development of shale natural gas in the United States, federal energy officials said Monday.

It has had the “lowest legislative productivity of any Congress in recent memory,” passing only 36 public laws so far, 80% of which are short-term extensions of minor bills, said Robert M. Simon, staff director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at a conference sponsored by the National Capital Area Chapter of the International Association for Energy Economics in Washington, DC.

He said he was optimistic that Congress would address tax credits for renewable energy this year, but the big-ticket energy items won’t be on the table. He said he wasn’t privy to any information on whether the super-committee planned to repeal $41 billion-plus in tax breaks for oil and natural gas producers (see Daily GPI, Sept. 14).

While many energy measures were made “hostage” to cap-and-trade, and Wall Street and health care reform legislation in 2010, energy issues were taken hostage in this Congress by a “larger debate over government finances,” Simon said.

There’s a “reluctance [by the current Congress] to authorize new programs without offsets or termination of existing programs,” he said. “We go through these political cycles,” where there are good times and bad times, he noted.

But DOE has been busy, at least with applications to export LNG. The upward trend in LNG export applications is a “testament to [the size and] opportunity of the shale resource base,” said Christopher A. Smith, deputy assistant secretary for oil and natural gas at DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy.

“We look at all [the] factors,” including jobs, prices and impact on consumers, before deciding whether to issue a company permission to export LNG, he said. Currently, Dominion Cove Point LNG LP and Jordan Cove Energy Project LP have applications pending before the DOE.

“You’ll see a decision made on these sometime in the not too distant future,” Smith said.

Natural gas is an “enormous, abundant resource” in North America that is “economically accessible,” said David “Clay” Bretches, vice president of marketing and minerals for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Since 2008, owing largely to the development of shale gas, the natural gas resource estimate has risen from 1,000-1,500 Tcf to around 2,500-3,000 Tcf, he noted.

Bretches was co-chair of the coordinating subcommittee that was involved in the National Petroleum Council, which released a report in September (see Daily GPI, Sept. 16). It concluded that North America may have more than 100 years worth of supply of natural gas at the current level of supply, which is 17 Bcf/d.

Moreover, the report showed that gas-fired power generation would result in about 50% fewer emissions than coal-fired generation, according to Bretches. And the price impact would be favorable.

“Even under the most pessimistic resource base, we are looking at a range of wellhead costs of $5-7.00/Mcf in 2035,” Bretches said.

He addressed the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, saying it “is an example of one of the issues where there is broad divergence of opinion and concern.” He believes that only technology can settle the dispute.

Microseismic technology will show that shale wells “do not propagate fractures to any length that would threaten fresh water aquifers,” he said.

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